Music Reviews
Shangri-La

YACHT Shangri-La

(DFA) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Shangri-La is everything it offers to be, its very own Shangri-La: that might seem like a pretty glowing way of opening a review, but frankly it's a signal that what we have here is a record which, on the one hand is so very hopeful and encouraging, but on the other proves to offer a somewhat transient and false beauty. Like Hilton’s Lost Horizon, the book that spawned the myth, it offers something that it simply can’t deliver – YACHT’s Shangri-La is a wonderful idea that never quite realizes itself.

The group take the time over the course of the record to deliberate and conclude their opinions on the titular subject, ensuring that this remains very much a concept driven album as well as one that gives room for ostentation of their other personal philosophies along the way. True to form, I suspect the brief opening narratives that introduce each song won’t surprise you – if not a novel idea at first at least they seem well observed, however they quickly tire and devolve into slogans of nonsensical absolutes, and that’s dissappointing.

Dissapointing because of the way this record is pitched: first single and the opener, Utopia, provides an encouraging introduction explaining the record as a call to arms, as it commands “it’s up to us to make Utopia” before suggesting with a wonderfully bullish simplicity that “We all know when we wake up [that] this is all we get / To think finally about life is to think strongly about death.” All this nihilistic bravado could seem a little despondent but with a mixture of assurance and optimism they pull off an accompanying sense of liberation with fortunate aplomb. And this feeling of defiant release is emboldened further by the excellent Dystopia (The Earth Is On Fire), as to simple synthesiser sections it revels “The Earth is on fire... / Let the Motherf*cker burn.” All this is interesting, it holds suggestion and intrigue, the problem is that a little too much of this quickly degenerates into irreconcilable stupidity: I Walk Alone is infectious but in the same vein as a highly coordinated arrangement of piledrivers; meanwhile it delivers insights such as “If your enemies gave you cancer, I’d find a cure for you / then bring it to the club.” You know the band is highly concious of this impression and that this is an active more than passive disintelligence – they intended it that way – but self-awareness doesn’t excuse even deliberate idiocy. Love In The Dark somewhat makes up for these very evident deficiencies, with a slowier, messier and less polished turn that showcases the talents of joint lead Claire Evans.

So too One Step and the murkily seductive Tripped & Fell In Love are notable examples that do well to provoke the reminder that this is a still a very laudable synthpop record. The excellent Holy Roller goes to greater pains, shifting gear impulsively amidst dub influences and the rarified climaxes of it’s chorus as it instructs “Don’t you worry about God up above / You’ve got to live life...”

Examples like this though repeatedly demonstrate how Shangri-La is too contradictory: on the one hand this is all straight-faced irony and tongue in cheek done with a remedying sense of flair, but on the other there are brief moments that remind the listener that on some level it is highly serious about expediating it’s own ideologies (and potentially offending others in the process). While both of these conflicting threads add value to this record, where they meet it becomes fairly restrictive for the audience. What are these guys really trying to say? From where I’m standing, it feels like they tried to say too much and in the process didn’t manage to say it right.

Luckily It ends with an absolute gem in the form of the title track Shangri-La, which delivers coolly alongside its melodic piano the satisfied closure that “If I can’t go to heaven, let me go to LA.” Moreover it’s a reminder of what this record could have been, alongside sharply bated witticisms like “You aren’t ‘born again’ / you’re dead already.” My own axes aside this is a fun and highly commendable record; well produced and with some excellent pop songs in tandem with enough stratagem to be considered a real credit to the band: scattered hints of genius, however, are not the same as the real thing.